[Review] – Keep The Lights On

27 Sep

Title: Keep the Lights On
Year: 2012
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias
Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 101 min
IMDb Rating: 5.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Metacritic: 80

Since I was on quite the streak of watching films that premiered at Sundance this year I decided to extend that streak to four by watching Ira SachsKeep the Lights On, which screened at the festival this year. The film, for those who don’t know, is about a homosexual relationship between two men, having even won the 2012 Teddy Award earlier this year. Last year I remember watching Weekend, Andrew Haigh‘s stunning film about the weekend two male lovers spend together. That film was seriously something, I had it as my 32nd favorite of all last year and it just got a release from The Criterion Collection so you know it’s good; Keep the Lights On, while not as a great a film, is definitely somewhere around that level.

The film is set in New York during 1997 and you have Erik Rothman, the Danish documentary filmmaker played by Thure Lindhardt who then meets Paul Lucy, a closeted lawyer who works in the publishing industry played by Zachary Booth. Much like Weekend, the relationship betweek Erik and Paul here starts as nothing more than a simple energetic fling but then these two start relating in much deeper levels and they develop a very complicated relationship to which we are witnesses thanks to this film.

What I especially liked was that Keep the Lights On I thought did exactly what Weekend did that made it so great, which is it gave us a story about two homosexual men because that’s the story the filmmakers wanted to tell but that story is also one that speaks some universal truths that everyone will be able to connect to in one level or another. It’s a film about love, a film about the friendship that develops between two lovers and about the intimacy that comes with that sexual connection.

We follow Erik and Paul’s relationship through its many highs and lows and we see how even though they’re trying to have something together, to have a life, they still have to deal with some very personal stuff by themselves. Paul actually struggles with sex and drug addiction and Erik has these very specific feelings about what his boundaries are and what he can do about them to accommodate this new person in his life while at the same time keeping true to himself. All of this, by the way, based on Mr. Sachs’ own previous relationship with Bill Clegg, a literary agent who struggled with addiction himself.

This film is as haunting as it is tough, intensely intimate and melancholic, delicately examining a bond that lasted close to a decade with a story that’s so well told it will almost definitely leave a lasting impression on the viewer. I had admittedly watched only one previous film from Mr. Sachs (this is his fourth effort) and that was 2008’s Married Life which is the film in which he got to direct some big names like Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson. Those famous actors actually give some really good performances in that film and there were some really neat ideas floating around it but I just never really got to connect with it once, not really bearing the constant shifts in pace and tone. This time around, without any movie stars, he delivers a film that’s easy to get involved with.

What really interested me about this film is that even though Mr. Sachs really does give us a poignant look at relationships in general and about gay life in specific he doesn’t do that in the most conventional of ways. By which I mean Keep the Lights On isn’t really about a story in the most typical ways, it isn’t about the events that shape that relationship but rather about the small moments. That’s why lots of time can pass from one scene to the next and, even though it is (subtly) acknowledged, the passage of time really isn’t important at all, it’s all about getting from one moment to the next because they, on their own, those small instances, tell the bigger stories Mr. Sachs is interested in.

It’s really a fearless film, an honest exploration of what it means to be a gay person in a city like New York at the turn of the new millennium. I say fearless because Mr. Sachs just holds no punches here; there may be no graphic full-frontal stuff going on in this film, but the messier sides of the gay reality, much like with the straight reality, has absolutely nothing to do with nudity most of the time. Fearless because Mr. Sachs gives a self-representation of his own reality as a homosexual male that many others LGBT films don’t; he admits that the gay reality is indeed super different than the straight one, though, in the end, is just as complicated.

No matter if you’re a guy or a girl, straight or gay, there will be something here for you to connect to here, that I really can say with full confidence. I mean, obviously if you’re some insensible homophobe or something it would be dumb for you to seek this one out, but if you can have an open mind then you’ll realize that these people, the way Mr. Sachs wrote them with Mauricio Zacharias, are just fully realized characters with their own issues. It isn’t a film about gay people more than it is about relationships. Much like Weekend, this has to be a landmark in the direction gay cinema is moving, and it really feels as though Ira Sachs is squarely coming into his own as a filmmaker without ever once compromising his individual voice.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – Keep The Lights On”

  1. youjivinmeturkey September 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Excellent Post, Sir!!!
    Fo SHO!
    -B.

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